There’s never a dull moment when you talk to CNN Anchor Richard Quest.
A self-confessed “old school” type who loves to sit on a plane, where he “can’t be got at” and read the newspapers, Quest is equally eloquent talking about the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 as he is on the Make in India campaign.
In over 25 years as a journalist, he has seen a wide sweep of reportage across stock-market meltdowns, the death of Michel Jackson, the Lockerbie bombing and the recent tragedy on the missing airline.
Ask him about the mysterious MH370 disappearance and he says in his inimitable style, “You’ll have to stop me….because I’ve just written a 300 page book on this!” In fact, the book on the hunt for the missing plane is scheduled to come out this week to mark the second anniversary of the aircraft’s disappearance, on March 8th.
Recently in Mumbai to anchor a roundtable coinciding with the “Make in India” week, among other things, Quest met BusinessLine after the “embarrassing” fire at the mega-event had hogged headlines. Not dropping the persona of a journalist, he lobs the question on the fire and its impact right back at you, to get the local pulse.
Having seen the “Make in India” branding and lion at Davos (World Economic Forum) last year, he says, the branding now needs to be fleshed out with reform, change, difference in the way of doing business etc.
The drawback “begins with a B and its bureaucracy,” he says dramatically of the British legacy. “We invented it, but I think you perfected it! And now you have to get the shears out,” he says.
The popular face from “Quest means Business” pulls no punches, as he animatedly discusses newsroom battles between general and business news or how twitter could be a “career killer” without adequate safeguards.
But it’s while discussing flight MH370’s disappearance that we delve into dealing with tragedies, especially one with no closure. And the silvery Arabian Sea, visible through a large window behind Quest almost seems to set the tone.
Pointing to different points on the wooden table in front of us, like it was a map of the sea, Quest distills the disappearance down to a critical unanswered question that fateful night. “On the night, this 777, turns around and flies back across the country and nobody does a thing. Could you imagine a 777 flying over Southern England and nobody doing anything in a post 9/11 world? Or a plane flying over Florida and the US Air Force says ……we think it’s a plane, but don’t worry about it,” he says, questioning how Malaysia let this happen.
“I am concerned that we don’t know why the plane went missing,” he says, believing though that the pilot may not be behind it. “When you think it might be mechanical, and I still think it might be mechanical, you don’t get that level of closure. You just don’t. And yet, there are 1200 Triple 7s down there …and we do not know why that plane went missing,” he says.
Disagreeing with the “heart on the sleeve” brand of journalism, he says, “that’s not journalism, that’s activism or partisan. ….you’ve got to be able to leave your opinions with your coat and your hat at the door.” But that is not to say you become uncaring, just stay dispassionate. “I try not to get too involved, but I don’t become detached,” he explains.
But there were times he’s got “involved”. Narrating his coverage as a young reporter in Northern Ireland (1988) where a landmine had taken down young soldiers going back to their barracks, Quest recalls what happened when he was returning in his car after filing the report. “I’d been up all night and I switch the radio on to hear the bulletin, Radio 4…I hear the news reader intone the names and ages of all those killed.” One was 18, another 22, he says, “I just sat there with tears pouring down my face.”
A similar incident occurred during the Lockerbie bombing, where a relative said, “he’s dead, he’s dead, and what more do you want,” he recollects.
Having made business news a lot less boring with his thundering, even theatrical style, Quest, dressed in a grey suit and yellow tie admits, he’s had to fight hard to push business stories against general news from say Syria or Afghanistan.
“And I‘m saying, yeah, that’s all really good stuff. But the Fed raising interest rates will affect more people, in more ways, over more time,” he says, thumping the table to drive home the point.
While US audience’s interest in Wall Street is similar to India, Quest says, the average Indian’s interest in the economy is unique. “People love the markets here, they love scrips, they love IPOs,” he says, recalling a conversation with a bunch of traders near the stock exchange, who bemoaned the stock market flip-flop despite good earnings by companies. Soon enough they were “exhorting me to buy shares,” he quips.
That said, he points to criticism of the Prime Minister in not going in for a “big bang reform. “So are you better off being a “bumble bee …just take a little bit of nectar from everywhere,” he says, about making small incremental changes. Will the Government needs to do more, he asks, since it will have to go back to the people in another three years.
But the optimism is there, he adds, pointing to AirAsia’s Tony Fernandes and Cisco’s John Chambers’s commitment to India. “India is pushing at an open door. Everybody likes it, wants it to succeed, believes its necessary, and …now we come to the age old issue in India. Can the country deliver?”
As our engaging 40-minute interaction over the economy, tragedies and journalism comes to an end, Quest prepares for the rest of the evening. But not before offering the last cookie on the table as a parting shot, much to everyone’s amusement.